TRUCKEE, CALIFORNIA December 21, 2017 - Two Tahoe Donner homeowners have filed a class action that alleges, for almost a decade, Snowtech, Inc. and Waltman Construction, Inc. – which merged, in March 2017, forming Elements Mountain Co. – engaged in a brazen conspiracy to fix the prices of snow removal services sold to residents of Tahoe Donner, one of the nation’s largest homeowner’s association, located in Truckee, CA. As a result of this conspiracy, Tahoe Donner residents allegedly paid artificially inflated prices for snow removal services, for years.
The Complaint, filed in Nevada County Superior Court, alleges that Snowtech and Waltman would agree, each year, to set the prices charged to Tahoe Donner residents for the upcoming season. They are further alleged to have worked closely to ensure that neither offered Tahoe Donner residents any better snow removal services than the other.
Included in the body of the complaint are emails allegedly between Snowtech’s Matthew Warren and Waltman’s Jamie Legare (aka Jamie Waltman), in which the agreement to fix prices are memorialized in detail. One such email reads, in part, “Price – we have agreed that the minimum price in TD [Tahoe Donner] will be $625.” Another refers to actions to be taken “in the interest of placating homeowners on pricing” and to “give the perception that there is a little bit of competitive pricing happening in TD [Tahoe Donner].”
As alleged in the complaint, part of the defendants’ scheme to create the false perception of competition was to include “price match guarantees” in solicitations sent to Tahoe Donner residents. As there was no actual competition between these companies, which dominated the market for of snow removal services in Tahoe Donner, the “guarantees” are alleged to be classic examples of false advertising. Because these “guarantees” were also included in these companies’ contracts with residents, the price-fixing conspiracy is alleged to be in breach of these contracts.
Stuart Gross of Gross & Klein LLP, who represents the plaintiffs and proposed class with co-counsel, stated, “As alleged in the complaint, Snowtech and Waltman explicitly agreed to fix the prices charged to Tahoe Donner residents for snow removal services. That’s illegal, and for good reason. Free competition is a lynch pin of our economic system; and these companies are alleged to have tossed that pin out.” Gross continued, “This was not a case in which companies on the ropes resorted to illegal price-fixing as a last ditch effort to survive. Rather, as alleged in the complaint, the illegal conspiracy was hatched to cynically prevent ‘money from being left on the table.’ Engaging in lawful competition is not leaving money on the table.”
The Complaint alleges ten claims against Elements, as well as against Jamie Legare, Joanne Waltman, and Matthew Warren, including violations of California’s Cartwright Act – which forbids price-fixing – as well as unfair competition, false advertising, and contract laws.
The case is captioned: Cramer et al. v. Elements Mountain Co. et al., No. TCU17-6880
A copy of the complaint is included here.